Friday, January 14, 2005

It Aint Easy Bein' Pleasy

The common rephrane is that there are only two certainties in life--death and taxes. I will add two additional certainties to that finite list. The first is that, no matter how demoralizing, nauseating, or pathetic a loss by the local sports team, some local fan will find a silver lining. Likewise, no matter how exhilarating, dynamic, or up-lifting a win by the local sports team, some local fan will find a dark cloud.

But there is a nuanced category between these two inevitable fellows. That category is one in which the fan considers the play of the local team and points to ways that the team might be able to improve its performance. After all, that's what most fans want. They want to see their team make logical progress. And, to that end, they want to understand--even in victory--what the potential pitfalls might be on the road ahead.

It is at this juncture that the fan in the nuanced category--a category into which I place myself--walks a fine line. Few Vikings' fans have an interest in the eternal pessimist, because the message is predictable. "The Vikings will lose because they always lose when it matters," the eternal pessimist will predict. That's not only predictable, it is also useless information unless bolstered by analysis of how past mistakes will weigh on future play.

But just as most fans abhor the eternal pessimist, many fans find fault with the eternal optimist. Our local scene has one such optimist, a writer upon whom one can count to explain how a 41-0 whitewashing "could have gone the other way;" a writer who can praise the play and "leadership" of a malcontent of a player who has played his way out of a starting job and, likely, off of the team; and a writer who can suggest that the Vikings were only "one play in several games away from being 15-1.".

It is that type of optimism, an optimism that borders on the naive, that prompts pessimism. That pessimism, in turn, prompts some to search for the dark cloud. And that pessimism prompts some to adopt a contrarian perspective if only for the sake of balance.

My goal is not to be a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian. Instead, my goal is to provide a perspective on performance that gets lost in the shuffle. Beat writers tend to go with the sound bites. Columnists tend to go with the optimist/pessimist approach in an attempt to stir pashions (and readership). I attempt to view the games in context, without respect to whether it matches the euphoria or despair of the moment.

At times, I have been accused of being overly optimistic, such as when I looked at the last half of the Vikings' schedule last season and suggested that the Vikings had the talent to run the table; or that the Vikings should beat the Bears this year at Soldier Field; or that the Vikings should beat the Seahawks this year at home; or that the Vikings should beat Washington this year to ensure a playoff spot. I did not say that the Vikings would accomplish the relevant feat, but I was optimistic enough to suggest that they could and should.

At other times, I have been accused of being overly pessimistic, such as this week, in the afterglow of the Vikings' unexpected victory over the Packers, when I suggested that it is too early to get too giddy over one victory.

But in neither my optimistic or pessimistic states have I strayed from my goal of dissecting the Vikings' play to identify areas that need improvement. That might mean that I short-change the positive at times. But there are many others dwelling on that aspect. So many, in fact, that few bother to consider whether the positives are a mere aberration.

Why does this matter? Consider the following.

Four poker players meet each week for a year to play poker. Of the four players, three are relatively adept at playing and one is a complete incompetent. When the three competent players recognize the incompetent's faults, they pounce and the incompetent loses miserably.

Frustrated, the incompetent player takes his game to a new table with three unfamiliar faces. The incompetent, as he did among his previous mates, bluffs often, usually, but for the grace of chance, without support for the bluff. Initially, the incompetent's new mates fail to pick up on the incompetent's dim approach to the game. The incompetent thus bluffs his way to victory for several weeks.

When the incompetent's new mates realize that the incompetent truly is incompetent, however, they begin to call the incompetent's bluff. And they are virtually always rewarded for doing so.

After the win against Green Bay last Sunday, the Vikings' coaches and players spoke as if all was right for the team. As much as I would like to believe that that is the case, it is not supported by the evidence. Defense aside, the Vikings' continued to make some of the same critical mistakes that they made all season. They took false start penalties at critical junctures. They refused to unleash one of their primary weapons by insisting (apparently) that Daunte remain in the pocket. They refused to run a no-huddle or quick-count offense despite being ideally suited for such an offense. And they insisted on running from script rather than adjusting to the gametime weaknesses of the opposing team.

I realize that games are filled with miscues by victors and vanquished alike. Some of the miscues can be forgiven. But it is difficult to overlook errors or acts of omission that occur on a regular basis and that are readily correctible.

My Ray of Sunshine

And if that is still too pessimistic I'll give you this. When the playoffs began, the two worst matchups for the Vikings were the St. Louis Rams and the Green Bay Packers, in that order. Philly, without T.O., was a distant third. That the Vikings were able to defeat their second biggest obstacle on the road bodes well for them as they prepare to play what should be a less formidable opponent this weekend. And if Atlanta can knock off St. Louis....

How's that?

Up Next: Preview of This Weekend's Playoff Matchup Against the Eagles.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

No complaints here--your comments are right on target. Their offense has hurt them, as you've pointed out--I think it has hurt them as much as their defense all year. There's no reason to trust them now just because they beat the Pack last week, although I loved to see it. Still the reality is that this is the same team that couldn't beat Washington and went 3-7 to close the season, and they have more injuries to deal with than when they were 5-1 and playing better. With as inconsistent as this team has been all year, it could be a Philly blowout on Sunday, a close game or a Vikes win. The Eagles should be well rested, they're at home, and they did, after all, win 13 games in the regular season. It will take at least as good an effort by the Purple as they put forth last week, and probably more, to take out the Eagles on Sunday.